Transient Nationalism: Evolved Patriotism in the Republic of Ireland
By Brian Gill
TABLE OF CONTENTS
On February 11, 1996, IRA explosives tore through London’s Canary Wharf district, killing two people, causing millions in damages, and efficiently derailing more than a year of supposedly unprecedented peace efforts. Its effects proved tragic. For almost a year and a half, with the help of US andtore throug Irish diplomatic aid, Northern Ireland’s republican movement and British and Northern Ireland political entities had inched closer to the same table, slowly poking through stalemates and reluctantly shedding conditions for negotiation. Immediately after the Canary Wharf attack, peace brokers desperately attempted to salvage talks, urging republican leaders to negotiate a cease-fire and return to more benign tactics. But more incidents quickly followed: IRA volunteer Ed O’Brien accidentally blew himself up aboard a double-decker bus near London’s West End (while transferring his explosive to its intended target), killing several passengers, and another major bomb attack blew apart a Manchester shopping center in June. In July, Northern tensions reached a head at Drumcree and Portadown, Northern Ireland — last summer’s infamous standoff, repeated just a few weeks ago, in which the decision to disallow loyalist marchers from parading through a defiant Catholic neighborhood was reversed — resulting in a Thursday afternoon of bloodshed and another violent Northern Irish civil eruption. And before year’s end, Direct Action Against Drugs, the IRA’s pseudo-cover, carried out a brutal assassination—directly in front of a young Belfast girl.1
The implication of last year’s events vary according to one’s point of view. By mid-August, Drumcree and Portadown became the latest chapter of what most Irish — North and south — generally refer to as “The Troubles.” For Northern Irish republicans, these events mean crude scribbles of “Drumcree ’96”2 added to thirty years of political graffiti. For Northern Irish loyalists, the bombings of London and Manchester both reinforce their resolve against reunification with the Republic and provide unionist demagogues with ample hate-speech material. For nationalist politicians –on both sides of the border–their claims that the IRA can somehow be reasoned with is met with a wall of cynicism, as one writer characterized: “…their foolish hopes for signs of flexibility on the part of the IRA.”3 And to the frustration of Irish historians, 1996-1997 continues an era just out of their reach; an era which stubbornly refuses to transform itself from current event into historical occurrence.
For the British-governed state of Northern Ireland, 1996-97 is a return to normality; normality, that is, in the context of the region’s turbulent twentieth-century history. For many Americans professing interest in Irish affairs, grasping the conflict’s complexities often results in several misconceptions, which is quite understandable; the sides involved identify themselves –and each other– often with different names and dual nationalities. But to politically comprehend Ireland, one must understand exactly who is fighting who. The struggle is not between Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, nor is it, as Sinn Fein often claims, between the Northern nationalists and Great Britain. Rather, the real antagonists lie within Northern Irish society. On one side, Northern “loyalist” or “unionist” communities (descendants of 16th-century Scottish plantation settlers) have maintained their allegiance to Great Britain, the result, J.J. points out, of an innate racism towards the Irish “natives.”4 Upon the island’s division, these “native” descendants, or northern Irish “nationalists” were effectively cut off from the south, thanks to adroit political maneuvering on the part of Northern Ireland’s loyalist leadership. As a result, Britain retained six Northern counties, and further maintained leadership over an oppressively divided society. Catholic nationalists, cut off from the autonomous Irish Republic, remained subject to severe political oppression, not directly from Great Britain, but from the North’s ruling loyalist government (a situation, which for political reasons of its own, Great Britain is severely guilty of maintaining). But because Northern Irish economics linked themselves closely to Great Britain’s–downward through the depression and, more importantly, upward through the postwar boom–improvements in welfare, housing, and education affected both loyalist and nationalist community alike. By the mid 1960s, Northern Ireland’s nationalist community, effectively outcasted from northern political institutions, found itself well-equipped with its first university-educated generation. And it demanded change. Rudimentary civil rights movements evolved into a full fledged multi-leveled cause by mid-1968, drawing both meager egalitarian concessions and violent loyalist backlash. The IRA, by this time well divided and nearly defunct, opportunistically overtook the chiefly nationalist community-driven cause, and effectively converted a non-partisan social movement into a much older struggle for a thirty-two county Ireland–the very cause which pervades and divides the north today.
Except as mediator, the Republic of Ireland, therefore, is not directly involved.5 But for the Republic of Ireland’s populace, last year’s Northern troubles signify one more notch in its gradual evolution; a subtle, but steady, deviation from once emotional nationalist issues — the result of nearly a century of statebuilding. As Irish historian J.J. Lee points out, the South has, since the closing of its civil war, evolved under much more homogenous, peaceful conditions since the Island’s division in 1925, and the result has been a vastly different mindset than its Northern counterpart.6 This is not to say nationalist emotions are currently dead — far from it. Unlike the United States, Ireland’s final push toward independence took place fairly recently; it was Irish grandfathers who fought British “Black and Tan” soldiers from 1919-21, and it was they and their sons who shaped twentieth century Irish politics between the Irish Free State’s creation (1922) and final manifestation as a fully autonomous republic (1949). Even today, classic rebel songs are sung over jars of Guiness, prominent republican leaders fill university lecture halls, and past martyrs are proudly revered by hometown admirers. But the island’s political division has efficiently sent North and south down vastly different roads.
Over seventy years before Drumcree and Portadown, the IRA, with the help of a well-organized Sinn Fein, gained Irish Independence from British rule. From their conceptions, both organizations struggled to rally ubiquitous Irish support; that is, until a failed 1916 rising in Dublin resulted in the execution of 15 young ring leaders — stirring Irish nationalism to a boil. As a result, the period between the failed 1916 rebellion and 1922 Irish/British independence negotiations elevated Ireland’s nationalist movement to the forefront of Irish politics. Sinn Fein inherited Irish political leadership, and the IRA’s ranks filled steadily. Widespread Irish nationalism grew strong — strong enough to rally behind militant nationalist leaders — and forced Britain to negotiate independence by 1921.
But militant Irish nationalism, the kind which in the last thirty years dominates Northern Ireland, served its purpose in the south. Once the southern 26 southern counties gained autonomy, militant nationalism became irrelevant. The gun-and-explosives war was over, at least in the south. The IRA was put down during the ensuing civil war and subsequently declared illegal. Ireland succeeded where many newly freed nations sometimes fail. Often, as in the case of the first French revolution, militant insurgents are not adequately quelled by their intellectual sector , leading to further unrest and instability. Subsequent southern leader Eamon de Valera remained well aware guns could no longer serve the growth of an independent Ireland: After unsuccessfully attempting to persuade Sinn Fein to accept the terms of what became known as “The Treaty” between Britain and Ireland — which included, among other things, the appointment of a boundary commission for dividing British North and Irish South — he broke ranks and formed his own mainstream, strictly democratic political party, Fianna Fail — pushing Sinn Fein, and Ireland’s radical politics, to the political fringes. By 1932, Irish voters transferred power to Fianna Fail from the pro-treaty parliamentary manifestation, Cumman na Gael (today known as Fine Gael). And for the first time since independence, Ireland’s stability was tested; the political institution which ten years earlier outlawed militant nationalism, accepted its loss of power without incident. Nor did Fianna Fail revive anti-treaty militancy. As a result, for the autonomous South, pragmatic democracy, not subversive militancy, became the twentieth-century Irish tradition. This is not to say the Republic dropped its wish for reunification with the North. But in the interests of stable nation building, Fianna Fail and other Irish governments could not afford tolerance of extra-military organizations. By the 1930s, gangster-style warfare between the IRA and other organizations forced de Valera to take action. In 1934 alone more than 102 IRA members were convicted for acts of violence by a special military tribunal.7 Finally, after the particularly brutal 1936 IRA murder of a woman and elderly man, the Irish government officially decreed the IRA’s outlaw status.
For the next few decades, the IRA remained, as it does today, officially, if not surreptitiously, outcasted from Irish society. The organization’s manifesto has also remained static: A 32-county, fully autonomous Irish-governed Ireland. But 26-county Ireland’s stable evolution over the last 75 years has led to a curious societal dichotomy, or, as historian Dermot Keogh has labeled it, Irish society’s so-called “republican mystique.”8 Republican sentiment still pervades public opinion, and a general desire to reunite with the North pervades. But the nature of this desire is shallow, romantic, inactive, and, as time passes, is becoming less interesting to much of the Irish population. This trend was noticeable throughout the duration of last year’s turmoil, but its roots can be found as early as the late 1950s.
For Ireland, 1956 literally ended with a bang. Forty years after IRA guerrillas soundly resisted British Black and Tans, won Irish autonomy, were defeated themselves by regular Irish forces, and went underground for three decades, their leadership decided another all out thrust might succeed in ousting Her Majesty’s troops from the North. Beginning in mid-December, over 150 volunteers attacked dozens of British military targets in Northern Ireland. Their tactics remained simple; units positioned themselves on the Republican side, snuck across the border, attacked British outposts, and expeditiously snuck back to the Republic. Over its four-year duration, “Operation Harvest” met with some success: several deaths and destruction to property cost the British army millions of pounds. However, the IRA strove not for direct military victory. British garrisons both out-manned and out-gunned the under-financed Irish paramilitaries. Republican leaders instead hoped to stimulate Irish sympathy for their cause, rally the Republic behind their efforts, and induce Britain’s willful withdrawal.
But this was not 1920, and public response to issues of nationalism had evolved considerably. Although newspaper editors wasted no time in condemning the first IRA attacks, labeling those responsible “national saboteurs”, Dublin generally greeted the headlines not with a rousing call to arms or riotous demands for British withdrawal – but with joking smiles. Enough jocularity regarding those patriotic but “foolish lads” surfaced that the editor of the Irish Times scolded, ‘There is unfortunately, a disposition on the part of some people – even adult people – in this country to profess amusement, rather than anger at escapades of Tuesday night’s kind…This business is not funny.”9 A few Dubliners took matters more seriously. After a Sinn Fein speaker zealously told Dubliners their help was “vitally necessary”, someone decided to “help” by (unsuccessfully) blowing up a west Dublin war memorial.
A dichotomy even more accentuated in the countryside. Not every provincial paper carried news pertaining to the border attacks, and many which did relegated the IRA’s newsworthiness to their back pages. Newspaper editors chose indifference for two reasons. First of all, many agreed outright that violent, war-like tactics were an outdated form of Irish republicanism, such as the Cork Examiner’s pragmatic warning that IRA aggression, “…cannot in any way promote the reunion of the two parts of Ireland. Their only effect can be to prevent any approach toward re-union.”10 Such denouncements sharply contrasted the rousing anti-British, anti-partition calls to arms of forty years earlier — an indication of Ireland’s growing stable, democratic resolve.
Many provincial editors remained silent for another reason, one which sharply accentuates Ireland’s evolving nationalism . Ireland’s populace had indeed mellowed after autonomy. After all, this was a new generation, a generation free from British rule and directly concerned more with plaguing economic woes than their nation’s political division. Most editors, however, knew their respective readerships and knew also that southern Irish nationalism remained capriciously alive. But the public’s actual response to the resurgence of militant tactics remained a question mark. Not wishing Ireland transformed into “a sort of Middle East,”11 many newspapers purposefully diffused the situation by not thrusting the IRA into the spotlight. In the short term, much to the Irish government’s relief, these attempts proved successful. With the Christmas holidays quickly approaching, attention soon turned to other matters and public interest in Sinn Fein’s call-to-arms ebbed dramatically. So far, forty years of democracy was overruling militant insurgency.
But as the new year broke, matters took a dramatic twist. No long after dusk on January 2d, a stolen truck pulled up just beyond the Brookeborough Royal Ulster Constabulary Barracks, not five miles over the border into Northern Ireland. Out rushed several attackers lugging a mine. Moments later, the device was satisfactorily placed and “the juiced turned on” — only nothing happened. A second was installed. Again the explosive failed to detonate. Several missed attempts to lob hand grenades through the barrack windows allowed time for defensive measures: From the second story RUC officers rained down the first magazine as the frustrated volunteers fled back to their truck.12 Among the casualties: two IRA volunteers from the Republic, Fergal O’Hanlon of Monaghan (near the border) and Sean South of County Cork.
Twenty-six county Ireland‘s reaction was significant. In the Republic, Irishmen who formerly mused at the futility of those patriotic but “foolish lads”, the deaths of South and O’Hanlon elevated the affair into an new dimension altogether. No longer were the ‘lads’ sporadically irritating British and Northern loyalist authorities. Two young men had died acting upon what the much of the Irish public, by 1956, either frowned upon or passively lamented. Patriotic fires again began to stir. In county Galwaynewspapers began running a series of stories of rebellion-era heroism, romantically retold by former, and aging, “Old” IRA rebels.13 In Clones, the first southern town through which the young men passed, a large convoy of cars awaited to begin Ireland’s longest funeral cortege of the modern era. When the cortege reached Fergal O’Hanlon’s home town, crowds lined the incoming road for nearly a mile. Thousands turned out as Sean South traveled down Dublin’s O’ Connell Street, scene of the famous IRA post office uprising of 1916, and the attendance at his Limerick funeral procession proved impressive: marchers included twenty prominent religious leaders, local and regional city and county councils — even senators and members of parliament.14 All marched alongside Sinn Fein and IRA members, old and new, for a police estimated total of 11,000 people marching and 11,000 lining Limerick‘s streets.15
But upon closer analysis, significant ambiguities emerge. Whereas in the 1920s, the chance to see a fallen martyr would have drawn thousands from anywhere in the country, in 1957, not every region turned out enthusiastically for Sean South. In Drogheda, north of Dublin, only about 700 turned out for the funeral procession, followed by a limited number of about 50 or 60 picked up from the center of town for escort to the towns outskirts.16 In addition, preceding requests for businesses to close down and draw blinds were “only partially complied with”, and generally the regions response “fell far short of expectations”.17 And in Dublin, although large numbers watched South’s body parade down O’Connell Street, the actual procession consisted chiefly of nationalist organizations, not the general public. Such aloofness is significant. Already by 1957 not every sector of the Irish populace admired the actions of men like South and O’Hanlon, even when their lives ended fighting a nationalist cause. Clearly, using guns to eliminate partition no longer captivated the population as it once had, or seemed an honorable way to express one’s patriotism.
The Irish government also met South and O’Hanlon’s death with grief, but for a much different reason. Up to this point, the already fragile coalition majority found itself treading a precariously thin line. On one side, economic diplomacy with Great Britain demanded responsible action against the IRA; on the other lay the public’s whimsical patriotism — including vital parliament members whose party platforms rested upon nationalist promises to eliminate the border and reunite the country. Initially, the government tried a “no-comment” approach, that is, until the Northern Irish senate accused the south, because of its silence, of approving the IRA attacks.18 And because Eleven Northern Irish MPs began pressuring British Prime Minister Eden to threaten the Republic with economic sanctions, the south was forced to deal harshly with the IRA.19 But it dealt with the IRA much as has in the last forty years — politically, which translates into an appearance of IRA crackdowns, without compromising internal nationalist-oriented political alliances. For example, newspapers headlines in late 1956 pronounced that southern Irish authorities had arrested IRA volunteers as they rested “safely” in southern Irish safehouse, which temporarily appeased both Northern Ireland and Great Britain. What newspapers didn’t report was what had happened next: After southern authorities found incriminating evidence against the sleeping IRA men and officially placed them under arrest, the commander placed a call to Dublin. “No sir, they’d no ammunition, ” the paramilitaries heard him say. The officer hung up and those arrested were immediately told they could go — whereupon the IRA men, seeing as they had no ride (they had abandoned their vehicles the previous night to avoid capture), refused to move unless they were given transport! Taxis were then called and paid for by the police and the entire driven to an released in Dublin.20
The deaths of South and O’Hanlon, combined with the killing of young RUC officer, forced the Irish government to get serious — and provoked its downfall. Just as Ireland’s stable 1932 political changeover had demonstrated its democratic maturity, so did a 1957 hard-line against illegal paramilitaries. Almost immediately, Irish army units were dispatched to the border to aide British and RUC forces against the terrorists. However, the government’s initial reluctance to crack down on the IRA proved justified. As arrests mounted, so did light public support for the incarcerated “freedom fighters”.21 More importantly, the current government, which retained only a slim parliamentary majority, lost support from the small, three person Clan na Poblachta, a nationalist party founded upon the proactive desire to eliminate the border, reunite with Northern Ireland, and completely remove British influence from Irish affairs. Its reasons for withdrawal still spark historical debate22, but a definitive factor was indeed irritation with the governments so-called anti-nationalist action.
The election which ensued further exemplifies the complexity of southern Irish nationalism. But first, one must understand Irish political parties. Ireland’s two main parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, were born from opposite sides of the Irish civil war. Unlike twentieth-century American politics, both parties, to this day, differ not in ideology, rather, each have characteristically remained socially conservative political entities. Fine Gael has been forced, since 1948, to sustain coalitions with Ireland’s spattering of smaller parties, while, Fianna Fail, as was shown earlier, after evolving directly from Sinn Fein, has been able to sustain majorities on its own. If there is to be one difference characterized, it is that Fianna Fail has demonstrated slightly more sympathy for the IRA, usually surreptitiously, and contains a slightly more nationalist element.23 Sinn Fein, the IRA’s official political wing, is a non-entity in the Republic, participating in southern Irish politics only when it feels Northern circumstances are touching a patriotic nerve in the South, as during the 1956-62 border war.
Sinn Fein, of course, attempted to ride the patriotic emotions stimulated by South and O’Hanlon, nominating either jailed terrorists or old-time republican heros.24 And aware that partition, thanks to Sinn Fein and the IRA, was to be a significant electoral factors, the main parties proceeded carefully. Initially, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail had every reason to worry. In County Cavan, a frustrated campaign official warned of high political fervor in favor of Sinn Fein (a party which had not taken part in an Irish election for thirty years). Heeding such reports, both parties made surgical attempts to appease the Ireland’s nationalist regions, most notably in the border counties and the far west. But generally, both the main parties avoided Sinn Fein’s trap: This was a short campaign, one in which public emotions dominated pragmatism. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail therefore took a huge risk and ignored Sinn Fein altogether — and competed to convince the Irish public as to which party would more readily “take the gun out of politics.”25
The risk paid off. Fianna Fail emerged as the election’s overwhelming victor, beating Fine Gael’s coalition to take 53 percent of Irelands’ parliament. And Sinn Fein emerged as an example if Irish ambiguity. The party managed to harness a significant portion of votes: 65,000 — or 5.3 percent — and four constituencies actually elected Sinn Fein candidates, not a bad showing considering the party had been outside democratic politics since 1927, fielded only 19 candidates (out of 288 total26), and lacked sufficient manpower for running a major national campaign. But whatever nationalist votes the party managed to harness, it was not to last. Within four years the IRAs “war” sputtered out as both the Northern and southern forces filled its jails with captured paramilitaries.
The events of late 1956 and early 1957 give scholars an insightful peek into the changing state of southern Irish nationalism. As to be expected, patriotism did exist beyond votes for Sinn Fein. For example, of the nine non-Sinn Fein candidates who campaigned on nationalist platforms, only one was not elected.27 Conversely, however, one candidate who decided to run on an anti-IRA “law and order” platform was elected in the same constituency that elected one of the four Sinn Fein victors.28 And in county Kerry, traditionally a republican stronghold, both a Fianna Fail candidate who had reminded voters of his party’s historical link to Sinn Fein and a Fine Gael candidate who had likened Eamon de Valera to ex-British Prime Minister Winston Churchill were elected to seats in the same constituency. Clearly, by 1957, nationalist issues no longer unified the southern Irish public as it once had. The Irish public was growing ambivalent in its attitude toward the militant style of nationalism that had been necessary to win the country’s independence—an insightful indication of trends to come.
Today, forty years beyond the border campaign, and nearly eighty years beyond rebellious days of old, southern Irish concerns for political reunification continues to ebb. To embellish this point, I recall three personal experiences in particular.
I remember, quite vividly, my exact location the night the IRA violently ended its 17-month long cease-fire. While traveling on a crowded bus through the Republic’s northern counties, not sixty miles from the border, all conversation s were tersely cut-off by a sudden rise in radio volume: “London’s Canary Wharf… explosives… Provisional IRA….,” the RTE29 anchor announced. Silence, perhaps even mild shock, overcame the passengers for a moment–after all, for a year and half few reports of violence had escaped Northern Ireland, and to those not living under the treat of a return to violence, it had become quite easy to dismiss peaceful developments as the new norm. Suddenly, it was over. But the initial shock lasted only a moment, and the bus quickly resumed its conversation hum. Naturally, discussion lingered on these new developments: A woman behind me muttered slight disgust, and another passenger audibly expressed outright disappointment.
After living Ireland for only six months, I had yet to fully grasp the current Irish mind set toward the border question. But the passengers’ subsequent reaction left me puzzled. The fact that nobody expressed support for the IRA’s decision to bomb a major British financial district was not surprising, but the attention the bombing received proved rather interesting. Within minutes, conversations turned to other matters–relatives, mutual acquaintances, recent football (soccer) scores–and I perceived not a single discussion focused on the border, the IRA, or Northern Ireland in general. I couldn’t dismiss this apparent disinterest as mere Dublin aloofness (Dublin, being a big city, has displayed far less sympathy and patriotism than many rural regions, a phenomenon as true in 1956 as it is today): This passenger load, being a trans-country bus route, contained a fair mix of Dubliners, mid-size town inhabitants, and small-village dwellers.
Nor was this a one time observation. Late April, 1996 marked the 80th anniversary of the old IRA’s famous 1916 rising against British authorities, when, as the reader will recall from the first section, armed militiamen took over Dublin’s General Post Office and held out for nearly a week against the subsequent British assault. In 1996, the decision was made to stage a public parade for peace through downtown Dublin, in protest against both IRA’s return to violence and British stubbornness to concede Sinn Fein’s modern demands to participate in “all-party” negotiations. The parade was to end in front of the famous G.P.O., where a number of well-known republican names were to speak, among them the aging Joe Cahill, a former IRA commander, and Gerry Adams, current president of Sinn Fein.
What proved interesting about this event was numbers. Thousands of people turned out on this Sunday afternoon to line O’Connell Street, or march, as the procession wound itself toward the Post Office. Joining the throngs of Dubliners were countless bands and clubs from around the country, and the parade went off “as expected”, peaceful and without incident. But as the parade ended in front of the GPO, where Cahill and Adams awaited to speak, the number of people steadily drained away. By the time Adams took the microphone, O’Connell Street, only an hour earlier packed with people and marchers, had reopened and traffic was again whizzing along the busy thoroughfare. A small crowd remained to listen or catch a glimpse of Gerry Adams,30 but its numbers had been reduced to a sliver of its earlier quantity Again, this is a poignant demonstration of waning southern Irish Interest in the nationalist politics of the North.
The third recollection concerns my own generation, those who have grown up on the southern side of the border during the North’s contemporary “Troubles.” Like many Americans, my chief interest in Ireland has been Northern affairs. As a graduate student in twentieth century Irish history at Dublin’s largest university, therefore, I eagerly awaited my professor’s attention to turn to Northern Ireland, and expected a rather lively, passionate discussion between fellow students. As an American newcomer to the nuances of a complex issue, and to make up for what I lacked experience in Irish history, I had thoroughly prepared myself by reading whatever I could, from personal recollections, such as Eamon McCann’s “War in an Irish Town,” to fairly dubious, but detailed, works such as Tim Pat Coogan’s “The Troubles”. When the time came to open my mouth on the subject, I was ready. To open what I anticipated would be a raging debate, my professor first asked her students for a show of hands: “Before I begin, how many of you are even interested in Northern Ireland?” Out of the nineteen graduate history students in the room, only four others raised their hands besides myself, with only three of the four being Irish. I was astonished. Yet this a fairly accurate reading of Ireland’s newest generation to come of age.
There is a reason for the lost interest, perhaps the driving force behind the Republic’s coming of age. The republic of Ireland has undergone a radical evolution in the last three decades. Beginning in the early 1960s, about the same time the IRA’s failed border campaign was drawing to a close, the Irish government began to take a number of steps to gain ground on its rather lackadaisical twentieth-century economic performance. Historian J.J. Lee’s epic work Ireland 1912-1985: Politics and Society delves into the ups and downs of the Irish economic race to catch up with its Western neighbors, but the result today can be termed a success.31 No longer do young Irish leave en masse to Great Britain to find work in low paying blue collar factories; by the late 1960s emigration figures had been slashed from an annual rate of 14.8 percent of the population in 1956 to just 3.7 percent of the population.32 Today, although many do leave for mainland Europe, it is usually to take professional positions requiring MBAs and foreign language skills. At home, Ireland is booming, economically the fastest growing nation in the European Union with major international corporations such as Intel setting up shop and taking its pick from a well educated 20-something generation.
What does this mean for southern Irish nationalism? Carving a secure middle class life is now a real expectation, and youthful energies are focused on business and science degrees, and the jobs that follow, rather than turbulent political issues in what some consider a foreign county, not six lost counties. Considering the professional aims of my fellow classmates, although well informed about current events, their apparent disinterest makes perfect sense. Competing for professional level jobs leaves precious moments to linger on fading, and what some consider slightly boring, political turmoil in a “foreign” country. The result is a slow, but distinct disinterest in issues that pervade the North and a lack of reverence for those who decide to pick up a gun.33
As a result, to those living in the Republic, the IRA is, like nearly every paramilitary group in Northern Ireland, a difficult group to like—even if one sympathizes with their aims. Brutal killings, such as the infamous Eniskillen bombing in 1987, which shocked the Republic’s relatively tame society with news that eleven innocent people had been blasted into a cement wall, help solidify the difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Despite a few revengeful outbursts, such as when angry crowds burned down Dublin’s British embassy to protest the “Bloody Sunday” killings of 1972, everyday violence is not part of daily life in the south, in contrast to periods in the North when bombs exploded almost daily in downtown Belfast. As a result, Sean Souths and Fergal O’Hanlons exist, for the most part, in Northern society only—exemplified by the response given to Ed O’Brien, the young IRA volunteer who blew himself up aboard London bus last year. Unlike South, O’Hanlon, or the countless Northern martyrs of the last thirty years, O’ Brien, who resided in the Republic, was not met with patriotic fervor as his remains crossed into southern Irish soil, but by his shocked, disappointed , and dumfounded, parents.34
The political violence in Northern Ireland continues. West Belfast streets remain effectively barricaded, separating the two communities; British surveillance towers loom over citizens’ homes with high-tech surveillance gear; and the threat of paramilitary activity lurks, whether in the form of large bombings in Great Britain or surreptitious assassinations carried out by men in black masks.35 But this is a sector of life in the North. The Republic of Ireland has been moving on for decades—a gradual relegation of its subversive independence-era insurgency to the history books. The result is a sharper division between North and South, and although not fully admitted by every aspect of Irish society, the continued emergence of two very distinct political entities.
5 There have been certain, subversive exceptions, the most infamous being the arms scandal of 1970, when certain members of the Republic’s government were found to have aided in arms shipments to the IRA. See V. Browne, “Arms Scandal 1970,” Magill, 3 (May, 1980), p. 56.
8 Dermot Keogh, Twentieth Century Ireland (Dublin: Gill and MacMillan, 1986), p. 229 and B. Gill, Southern Reactions to the IRA Border Campaign and Their Effect on the 1957 General Election, MA Thesis, 1997, University College Dublin, p. 17.
21 An excellent example proved to be the trial of IRA volunteer John Joseph McGirl. Following his conviction, McGirl was led form the Ballinamore courthouse (in the Republic) to supportive cries of “Up the Freedom Fighters!” and “Up the Rebels!”. Subsequently, McGirl was one of the few victorious Sinn Fein candidates in the Irish general election six weeks later. Leitrim Observer, 2 February 1957.
22 Anthony Jordan covers this affair in A. Jordan, Sean MacBride: A Biography (Dublin: Gill and MacMillan, 1993), pp. 142-147. For an analysis of the historical debate, see B. Gill, Southern Reactions, pp. 31-36.
24 A note ex-“hero” Sinn Fein candidate was John Joe Rice, whose republican exploits during Ireland’s independence days is well know to this day throughout the country. See C. Younger, Ireland’s Civil War (London: Oxford Press, 1968), pp. 265, 453, 487 and P. O’Herlihy, The Civil War in County Kerry, MA Thesis, 1997, University College Dublin.
25 Originally quoted by Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Costello in late 1955, this campaign promise was repeatedly used against him and his government during the electoral campaign of February 1957. Sean MacEntee speech in Dublin, 17 February 1957, Sean MacEntee papers, P 67/392(24), Archives Department, University College Dublin.
33 A survey released on Easter 1996 revealed that a significant portion of Irish in their teens and twenties could not name well-known independence -era figures, nor answer basic questions about the 1916 rising. Sunday Tribune, April 1956.